Flashback in the Pan

While I was on vacation, I was using my mother-in-law’s cottage kitchen. It had a selection of cookware I would never choose for my own, like thin stainless steel frying pans and lots of Corningware. I favor well-seasoned cast iron and 5-ply stainless, and honestly feel a little bummed about cooking for two weeks using anything else.

The kitchen also had an electric stove. I’ve turned down some great living spaces in my lifetime (I’ve moved over 20 times) simply due to the absence of a gas stove. Though it was the new kind with a flat top and elements that transition from hot to cool much more quickly than the old ones, I was getting really frustrated with things sticking and burning.

After some serious searching, I finally discovered an electric skillet up in one of the hard-to-reach cupboards. It was square, about 10″ by 10″, with 4″ deep sides and a non-stick coating. It had a two-prong plug with a dial and a temperature range of 100 to 450 degrees. The lid was avocado green, one of the most popular colors in 1975, (when I was five) along with orange and yellow. In fact, it was the very pan my mother-in-law used to cook 35 years ago for her family. The fact that it was still working was impressive, but what kind of job would it do?

The first thing I tried was scrambled and fried eggs. They came out perfect. Next was pancakes, which turned fluffy and golden on the first batch (my cast iron pans usually take some time, a bunch of fat, and at least one bad pancake to get primed). I decided to try some non-breakfast items. The breaded tilapia got a fine, lightly crispy coating with almost no oil in the pan and the flesh was moist and flaky. Now this appliance really had my attention.

I have many memories of my mother’s electric pan. Hers was a griddle: rectangular with no sides and just a trough along the edges to collect the grease. She made Sunday breakfast on it every week. When I started cooking myself, I dissed these devices as unfortunate fads from the 70′s. Can you imagine a culinary school teaching chefs to use these things now?

Before the end of my vacation, I had a few more electric skillet successes: fried (but not greasy) eggplant slices for a casserole with fresh mozzarella and a tomato-mushroom ragout, and perfectly seared steak (the gas on the grill ran out). Though I’ve done some research and discovered you can buy all kinds of new electric skillets, I’m going on Freecycle to see if I can find one that someone still has lying around from the 70′s. They just don’t make things like they used to.

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